With about two weeks remaining until the regular season begins, the Tampa Bay Rays made the first of two trips to Bradenton’s LECOM Park on Wednesday.
With an offseason that mirrored Wednesday’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rays fans saw moves aimed at creating “financial flexibility,” according to a Tampa Bay Times story in February.
Those moves included trading Evan Longoria, the club’s franchise third baseman over the past decade, to the San Francisco Giants and dealing right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins for a minor-league prospect.
Tampa Bay also parted ways with outfielder Corey Dickerson, a 2017 American League All-Star who ended up with the Pirates, and outfielder Steven Souza Jr.
The Odorizzi and Dickerson moves were designed to cut $10 million in payroll.
Longoria and Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier voiced their displeasure in how the Rays handled the offseason.
“I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves,” Kiermaier told the Tampa Bay Times. “No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, OK, well, so be it.”
But before Wednesday’s 9-3 Grapefruit League victory over the Pirates, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said he was optimistic as the start of the season approaches.
“For the most part, we’ve been healthy,” Cash said. “Which is, maybe, a little different than the past. We did have (pitchers) Brett Honeywell and Jose De Leon go down, which there’s a trickle effect there for diving into our depth a little bit. But with Brad Miller kind of coming back and getting back onto the field (Thursday), that’s a good sign.”
Kiermaier, who followed his comments about the offseason moves by saying it was the responsibility of everyone to move on, didn’t make the trip Wednesday to Bradenton.
However, four projected starters did travel north from Tampa Bay’s spring home of Port Charlotte: outfielder Carlos Gomez, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, catcher Wilson Ramos and closer Alex Colome.
Cash said Gomez, who signed a one-year deal in late February, was taking live batting practice in the Dominican Republic prior to entering Rays camp and that “You can’t knock the smile off his face.”
“The signing came late, but he might be the perfect mix for this club,” Cash said. “Super high energy, lots of positivity. I think he’s going to keep some guys in check just the way he goes out and plays hard every day. And he’s a really good player. This is a guy that has a track record of having a lot of success at the big-league level.”
That energy from Gomez is something that’s been infectious this spring for a Rays team that has a lot of young players.
So, Cash said he wants to see the team be healthy over the next couple weeks as they make final preparations for Opening Day.
“The attention to detail has been outstanding all spring,” Cash said. “We anticipated that happening with some of the youth and the energy. Just stay healthy now.”
Tampa Bay has three starting pitchers from the 2017 team still around with ace right-hander Chris Archer leading the staff.
The Rays begin the 2018 season on March 29 with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.